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Susie Cagle's Posts


Will the FDA keep hiding most data on farm antibiotic use?

Livestock antibiotics may beef up our meat, but they may also create drug-resistant bugs that could one day kill us. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn't want to tell us what it knows about how much antibiotic use is happening on American farms.

Animal Equality
Antibiotics bottles on a pig farm.

Tomorrow, the FDA will hold two public meetings on reauthorization of the Animal Drug User Fee Act, which is due to happen in 2013. One question up for discussion: how much antibiotic info should be publicly released under the act. First passed in 2003, ADUFA took money from frustrated drug companies that wanted to speed up their review process and gave it to the feds to hire more reviewers. (Hiring federal drug reviewers with big drug dollars -- not sketchy at all!) The 2008 reauthorization of the act added a provision requiring the FDA to release compiled data on livestock drug use. But this is hardly an open government effort, as Maryn McKenna writes at Wired.

[I]n each year, the FDA released only summed amounts, in kilograms, of all the drugs sold, by all the companies, for all livestock species, across all agricultural uses: growth promoters, prevention, and treatment.

The veterinary pharma companies are not getting together, adding up their sales by drug class for the entire year, and delivering the totals to the FDA. The companies report to the agency individually; they report their data by month, not year; and they report how the drugs are administered, in feed, in water, or by injection.

The FDA receives all this data but is not releasing it, presumably for reasons having to do with its initial ADUFA negotiations with agriculture.


San Francisco’s private-public spaces go public-public

It may be one of the most expensive places to live in the country, but San Francisco is still sticking to its hippie roots and trying to look out for its commoners. A city mandate requires that downtown developers include a space in every new building for the city's scruffy thousands who can't afford Financial District condos. Some of these privately owned public spaces, or POPOS, look especially nice and fancy. Some have weird but glorious monster head sculptures. All languish relatively unused -- but that may be about to change.

Moonrise by Ugo Rondinone
Scott Beale

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The provision of privately owned public open spaces is governed by the city's 1985 downtown plan. The formula "to meet the needs of downtown workers, residents and visitors" requires 1 square foot of public space per 50 square feet of office space or hotels.

Read more: Cities


The real gun crisis is in America’s urban sacrifice zones

Friday's shooting at an elementary school in sleepy suburban Newtown, Conn., may have rekindled our national conversation about gun control, but that conversation consistently ignores America's real gun crisis. Suburban rampage killings are on the rise, but they are not the country's scourge. The vast majority of the guns are in the cities, they are neither big nor particularly scary looking, and they are killing a lot of people, old and young, every day.


On Friday, President Obama said, "Our hearts are broken." On Saturday, Bob Herbert wrote, "Our hearts should feel broken every day."

Read more: Cities


Feds predict end times for Colorado River water

Add another item to the list of things in peril due to climate change: the entire American West.

According to a new study from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River won't fare well over the next 50 years. Climate change, drought, and population growth all add up to far greater demand for water than the river will be able to supply by 2060.


A large portion of the American West, especially its cities, rely on the Colorado. Almost 40 million residents of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming depend entirely on the river's water.

"This study should serve as a call to action," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. But some of the possible actions outlined in the report are, well, nuts. From the Los Angeles Times:

The analysis lists a range of proposed solutions, including some that Interior officials immediately dismissed as politically or technically infeasible. Among them: building a pipeline to import water from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers and towing icebergs to Southern California.

But Salazar said a host of practical steps could be pursued, including desalination of seawater and brackish water, recycling and conservation by both the agricultural and urban sectors.

For states draining the Colorado's Upper Basin -- Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico -- there is a less insane option, according to National Geographic.

The Bureau of Reclamation study also highlights an opportunity to help water users in the Upper Basin (WY, CO, NM and UT) save water for use in extended droughts while at the same time improving conditions essential to the $26 billion river recreation industry. An Upper Basin water bank is the kind of modern river management that can ensure prosperous farms and ranches, thriving cities, and healthy river flows.

At risk of stating the obvious, predicting the future is hard! Even for the federal government. Some critics said the report overestimates population growth in unsustainable desert towns like Phoenix and Las Vegas that have seen recent real estate and population collapses. From the L.A. Times:

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


From farm to table, we’re losing tons of food

Forty percent of the food we grow in the U.S. is wasted somewhere between the farm, the table, and the garbage can. There's the stuff Americans allow to rot in their fridges (though I know you dear and conscientious readers would never do that), but there's also tons of food lost on the farm and in the packaging process.

ECO City Farms

A new study from the Natural Resources Defense Council surveyed crop waste at farms in California's Central Valley. From NRDC's Switchboard blog:

Results are by no means conclusive due to the limited data set, but they do offer an anecdotal snapshot of the extent of losses that occur. They found that “shrink,” another word for lost product, could be as low as 1 percent for the crops which were studied and, depending on weather and market conditions of a particular year, as high as 30 percent. Losses for plums and nectarines were on the high side; head lettuce and broccoli losses (at least where the farmer was selling florets separately) were relatively low.

This can translate to a lot of food. If just 5 percent of the U.S. broccoli production is not harvested, over 90 million pounds of broccoli go uneaten. That would be enough to feed every child that participates in the National School Lunch Program over 11 4-ounce servings of broccoli.


Judge reverses course, lets Keystone XL construction continue

Keystone XL pipeline injunction, we hardly knew ye.


Yesterday, the Texas judge who ordered TransCanada to stop work on Keystone XL pipeline construction in East Texas lifted the injunction. The Los Angeles Times reports:

[Texas County Court Judge Jack] Sinz had signed the temporary restraining order, which took effect Tuesday, after finding sufficient cause to stop work on the pipeline for two weeks. But he changed his mind after hearing from TransCanada's attorneys, who argued that [plaintiff Michael] Bishop understood what he was doing when he signed off on an easement agreement [permitting pipeline construction on his land] with the company three weeks ago.

“TransCanada has been open, honest and transparent with Mr. Bishop at all times. We recognize that not everyone will support the construction of a pipeline or other facilities, but we work hard to reach voluntary agreements and maintain good relationships with landowners,” Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman, said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “If we didn’t have a good relationship with more than 60,000 landowners across our energy infrastructure network, we wouldn’t be in business.”

Howard added: “Since Mr. Bishop signed his agreement with TransCanada, nothing about the pipeline or the product it will carry has changed. While professional activists and others have made the same claims Mr. Bishop did today, oil is oil.”

Oil is oil: This was precisely the logic Judge Sinz had initially rejected. And on the heels of the initial injunction, the Los Angeles Times ran an editorial to the effect of: Uh no it's not.


Tiny twisters could power your town — someday

You thought you were cool with your wind turbines, hippies? Canadian inventor Louis Michaud sees your wind turbines and raises you a freaking tornado.


Yes, climate change may be unleashing monster tornadoes upon us now, but those aren't the tornadoes Michaud wants to "control and exploit." Today the inventor won a grant through the Thiel Foundation's "revolutionary" Breakout Labs to develop power-generating twisters.

The Toronto Star reports:

[B]y today’s measure, Michaud’s idea is the definition of radical. Through his company AVEtec — the AVE standing for “atmospheric vortex engine” — the long-term plan is to take waste heat from a thermal power plant or industrial facility and use it to create a controllable twister that can generate electricity.

Here’s how it works: Waste heat is blown at an angle into a large circular structure, creating a flow of spinning hot air. We all know heat travels upward and as it does it spins itself into a rising vortex.

The higher the twister grows, the greater the temperature differential between top and bottom, creating stronger and stronger convective forces that act like fuel for the vortex, eventually allowing it to take on a life of its own.


Pesticide chemicals linked to food allergies

You may not be at all surprised to learn that pesticides are bad for us. No, but, like, really bad.


A couple of months ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned about the effects of pesticides on kids. Today's kids have grown up with a new normal of pesticide-laden food and increased food allergies (up 18 percent in the U.S. between 1997 and 2007). According to a new study, those two things might be connected. From Mother Earth News:

The study reported that high levels of dichlorophenols, a chemical used in pesticides and to chlorinate water, when found in the human body, are associated with food allergies.

"Our research shows that high levels of dichlorophenol-containing pesticides can possibly weaken food tolerance in some people, causing food allergy," said allergist Elina Jerschow, M.D., M.Sc., ACAAI fellow and lead study author. "This chemical is commonly found in pesticides used by farmers and consumer insect and weed control products, as well as tap water ...

"Previous studies have shown that both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the United States," said Dr. Jerschow. "The results of our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies."

Eat all the organic apples you want, but there's no escaping pesticides. The New York Times' Mark Bittman had some strong words about that this week:

Read more: Food, Living


How eco-awful is your Christmas tree? Experts are split

Ohhhh, Christmas tree.


We may be engaging in a fierce war on Christmas right now, but y'all know we love trees -- even the Christmas kind! Well, wait, maybe.

From The Washington Post:

Christmas trees play into a wider debate among environmentalists: Are tree farms better or worse at carbon sequestration than untouched forests?

The answer may surprise you: A study on North Carolina tree farms published last month looked at the farms' unique ability to sequester and soak up a whole lot of atmospheric carbon.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Ohio fights a multi-front war against blight

Good samaritans in Ohio may be getting a reprieve from potential misdemeanor charges.

Today the state House is voting on a bill that would allow people to clean up vacant, blighted properties without fear of a trespassing charge. This measure essentially gives residents more power to improve their neighborhoods, harnessing NIMBY instincts for good. From The Columbus Dispatch:

Some residents hesitate to take care of the properties around them because they risk trespassing charges, said Tiffany Sokol, office manager of the nonprofit Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which boards up and cleans up vacant properties. The bill would allow individuals to clean up blighted land or buildings that have clearly been abandoned.

“Very ugly, nasty places,” [said Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D), the bill’s sponsor]. “These properties are an eyesore, a danger to their neighbors.”

East Cleveland
Blight in East Cleveland.

The Rust Belt is only getting rustier, and Ohio communities have tried a number of strategies to fight neighborhood blight. Yesterday, The Columbus Dispatch and a city website published the names of negligent owners of more than 100 blighted properties. The city called it a fight for neighborhoods.

City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. said anything is worth a try.

“If it gets their attention, good,” he said.

Read more: Cities